When presenting, you need to hold your audience's attention, convey information, and persuade people to act, while all the time guarding against anything that could derail your performance. To help you master this balancing act, here are a few pointers:
* Know your subject inside out. This is the single most important thing you can do to ensure a high-impact presentation. Be the absolute expert on whatever it is that you'll be talking about. Nobody in the room should know as much about the topic as you do.
* Understand your audience. Speak at their level of knowledge. Know their needs. What do they want from you, and what do you want from them?
* Rehearse. Run through the presentation in front of a mirror, in front of a spouse or friend, or in front of your team. Use a cassette recorder or camcorder. Time yourself and add on a few minutes for Q&A.
* Anticipate questions. As you rehearse, stay on the lookout for places where someone could pose a question. Have answers ready. You'll probably be asked at least one "out-of-left-field" question. Don't be thrown off balance by it; take your time to think about the reply and be candid.
* Anticipate hardware problems. Your laptop may freeze. The overhead slide projector's bulb may blow out. Think of something to say and do while you and everyone else wait for the laptop to reboot or the replacement bulb to arrive. Keep an easel and blank flipchart handy.
* Break the ice. Begin with a joke or a personal anecdote that is relevant to the subject at hand.
* Maintain eye contact. As you look around the room, meet each person's eyes while you speak at least one sentence.
* Interact. Establish a connection with your audience. This is easier if you're speaking to a small group. Invite people to participate, but keep the discussion focused and on point.
* Don't talk to the screen. If you're using overhead slides or a liquid crystal display (LCD) projector, keep your notes in front of you. Then you can continue to look at your audience while talking about the information on the screen behind you. If you want to point to something on the screen, point to it on the overhead slide or computer monitor instead.
* Recap often. If it's a long presentation that covers many steps, help people absorb it or you may lose them somewhere along the way. Summarize, in one or two sentences, what you've covered so far and what the next step will be.
* Keep the lights on. Too many things can go wrong in the dark. People may fall asleep, or they may start concentrating on the refreshments. You won't be able to make eye contact or read your notes. If you must lower the lights, dim them just a little, not all the way.
* Don't mix eating and speaking. You can't expect full attention to your presentation from someone who is biting into an overstuffed chicken sandwich. Avoid the "working lunch presentation." First food, then business.
* Give handouts. Always give your audience a written summary or outline after the presentation. There are times when you may need to hand the audience something during your presentation, such as in a training exercise. In such instances, give them only as much material as they need at that point in the exercise.
* Above all, relax. A few butterflies in your stomach are OK, but if you're too tense, your performance can quickly go downhill. Remember: you're the expert, you have their attention, you're in command, and you're going to make it worth their while. What's there to worry about?
Copyright 2006 Arun Sinha.
Arun Sinha is founder and president of Access Consulting (http://www.AccessConsultingInc.com), a marketing communications and technical writing firm in Stamford, Connecticut, USA.